By Kyle LoJacono
Freedom coach Autum Hernandez was worried spring break might disrupt her softball team’s momentum.
Her Patriots (11-1, 5-0) were anything but rusty March 19 at Class 7A-District 9 rival Steinbrenner in their first game after the break, piling up 15 hits, including five doubles, en route to an 8-0 win. Hernandez said the offensive onslaught allowed the defense and senior pitcher Katlin Hall to focus on execution.
“I was concerned about scoring runs, but we were able to score two runs in the first inning, which allowed us to relax a little bit,” Hernandez said.
Freedom had a little more motivation for its first meeting of the year with the Warriors (9-6, 2-3), who ended the Patriots season last year in the district semifinals.
“It was a big boost for us coming out of break because we were thinking about what happened last year,” said senior second baseman Caroline Whiteside, who had three hits and scored three runs. “We beat them twice last year, but we fell short one run in districts. Not to rub it in their face, but it was about redemption and proving ourselves.”
The victory over Steinbrenner was the eighth win by at least six runs for Freedom this season, three more than the Patriots totaled all of last year.
Five Freedom batters had multiple hits in the contest, led by Katlin’s three doubles and two RBI.
“If our top of the lineup doesn’t score runs, then the bottom does or the middle,” Hernandez said. “They usually even each other out. There hasn’t been one person who’s carried us. Katlin Hall has been stroking the ball, so if there’s been one person who’s been hitting consistently it’s her.”
The Patriots were also aggressive on the bases with four steals.
“We’ve been working on making the other team play more,” Hernandez said. “We seem to do better with our hit and run and being aggressive on the bases when they can react instead of thinking. We had a hit and run that was successful, several steals and a bunt that worked, so we looked good all around. It was definitely a team effort tonight.”
Katlin, a Wharton transfer, tossed a four-hit shutout with six strikeouts. She said she felt very focused pitching and at the plate.
“When I’m in my game I get in a zone,” Katlin said. “I don’t know exactly how I get there, but when I’m in that zone I’m in it.”
Freshman catcher Maddy Hall said Katlin (4-1) had all her pitches working, especially her curveball.
“Her curveball is a really good pitch,” said Maddy, Katlin’s sister. “When she throws that it’s really hard to hit. It’s powerful.”
Hernandez said Katlin has been a big addition to the pitching staff and the entire team.
“She’s meant a great deal to us,” Hernandez said. “She brings the type of competitiveness that we might have been lacking a little bit in the past. She competes every day, and that makes everyone else want to compete harder.”
Katlin faced only one true jam in the contest, which came in the final frame. Steinbrenner senior third baseman Taylor Morrow’s single up the middle to lead off the seventh struck Katlin in the leg, followed by Lindsay Boynton reaching on an infield error.
Katlin struck out Annmarie Scios for the inning’s first out before Kellee Ramsey loaded the bases with a single, but junior center fielder Rachel Carlson caught a line drive ripped by Brittany Rasmussen and doubled up Boynton at second to end the game.
Steinbrenner hosts Gaither March 28 at 7 p.m.
Freedom plays at home against Chamberlain March 26 and at Gaither March 27, both at 7 p.m. Wins in both contests would clinch the No. 1 seed in the 7A-9 tournament for the Patriots.
“We have a good team this year,” Whiteside said. “Tons of potential and tons of talent. We just have to put that in use and work as a team.”
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker